Vesta. Virgin Goddess Of The Domestic Life Of Rome

Get to know in detail the Goddess Vesta. We explain how her legend arose and the meanings behind this venerated virginal figure.

vesta goddess

Vesta. Roman Goddess

Vesta is the virgin goddess of domestic life. The hearth was a very important element of the ancient Roman household, and was the place where meals were prepared. Apparently, it is still important today, as life in the home continues to center around the kitchen.

In ancient Rome, a sacred fire burned in the Temple of this goddess in the Roman Forum. The flames were guarded by priestesses, the Vestal Virgins, the only women priests in ancient Rome. They swore to protect the fire on the altar of Vesta and to keep it burning. Just as in Greek mythology there are gods who are protectors of all creation.

The ancient Romans believed that the extinction of fire could bring terrible luck and misfortune to the empire, so their guardianship was very important for the protection of the city. Every year, on the first of March, the eternal fire was renewed.

It continued to burn until 391, when the pagan cult was banned by the Emperor. It also had its own festival, the Vestalia, celebrated only by women. They honored her by walking in barefoot procession to the temple where the sacred fire burned.

Origin of Vesta

The goddess was the very beautiful firstborn daughter of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. She was swallowed by her father, along with most of her brothers and sisters. Her brother Jupiter, who later became the chief of the gods, managed to escape the enormous appetite of Cronus and freed the domestic goddess and the others. Being the first to be eaten, she was the last to be released, so the Romans considered her the eldest and youngest of the gods.


Her charming appearance won Vesta the lustful attention of many of the male gods. Both Apollo and Neptune proposed marriage to her, but she rejected them and appealed to her brother Jupiter to allow her to remain an eternal virgin.

Wish Granted

Her wish was granted, and the Roman goddess became the symbol of home and family and an icon of domestic tranquility. She was worshipped in every house in Rome. The Latin word for hearth is focus. and we use that word today to denote the center of attention or activity. It is clear that the goddess of the hearth played an important role in the lives of the people. They made sacrifices by the fire, and threw them into the flames to burn them.

There were no images of the virgin goddess inside her temple. It was believed that no body could have its origin in the important element of fire. Her image was placed at an entrance, often accompanied by her favorite animal, the donkey. That association was inferred from her connection with baking, which of course was done in the home.

Donkeys were the animals that pulled the millstone to grind wheat for bread. She also had flowers and sometimes a teapot, representations of family life. Unlike other goddesses who appeared in various states of undress, Vesta was always fully clothed.

Vestal Virgins

The priestesses of Vesta took a vow of chastity and devoted their time to study and religious rituals. They were selectively chosen for the position when they were under 10 years old, taken from their parents, brought to the temple and sworn to celibacy for 30 years. The first 10 years were to study, the next to serve, and the last 10 were spent as teachers.

Once the 30 years were up, the vestal was retired and replaced. She was given a pension and allowed to marry. Generally, marriages were arranged by the high priest called Pontus Maximus, who was the overseer of the virgins. Marrying a former Vestal was considered an honor, as well as fortunate.

However, many of the retired Vestals preferred not to marry at all, and chose to keep their rights, and live out their retirement in a comfortable nest egg. In particular, the ceremony for electing the Vestal Virgins was called captio, meaning capture. It seems a fitting title for an investment of 30 years in service.



Life as a Vestal Virgin also had its privileges. They were escorted by guards to all public gatherings and rode in a carriage. At the games in the Colosseum, they sat in special seats of honor with a great view of the events. Their judgment and character were considered impeccable and they became the trustees of important documents of the city and its citizens.

Unlike other women in society, they were not subject to the rule of the male head of the household, and along with that freedom came the right to own property. They also had the right to vote. The penalty for harming a Vestal was death.

Since they were considered to be married to the state, sexual intercourse by a Vestal was considered treason. The punishment was to be buried alive in a subway chamber near the city gates.

Since physically harming a Vestal was a crime, they were left to die with a few days of food and water. This horrible punishment was not something that happened very often, but there were a few cases over the thousand years of the Order of the Vestals.

Vestal Tuccia, accused of violating her vow of chastity, was condemned but she performed a miracle by carrying water in a sieve and that got her off the hook. Vestal Postumia was admonished for her improper manner of dress and cheerfulness unbecoming her position, but she also managed to escape from the burial chamber. The men accused with those found guilty of breaking her chastity were flogged to death.

Modern Influence

Christianity eventually took over the pagan religion in Rome, but the flames of Vesta’s eternal fire continued to burn. Candle-lighting ceremonies still prevalent today recall the traditions of Vesta. The Order of the Vestals ended, but a new order of less powerful celibate priestesses was formed: the nuns.

As one of the few goddesses immune to the spells of Venus, the goddess of love, Vesta could not be forced to love anyone. Interestingly, a childless unmarried virgin represents home life in ancient Rome. However, the focus on family values and dedication to family life is a valuable attribute today, both in Christian households and throughout society as a whole.

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